Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How To Go to a Fireworks Festival the Japanese Way

Summer is hanabi time. Hanabi means “to see fireworks.” The Japanese have a special way of seeing fireworks. It’s not just looking at fireworks display. For some reason, the Japanese have made fireworks watching a cultural thing.

To go hanabi in Japan,

Wear a yukata with an intricate hairstyle

One way to know if a festival is being held is when lots of people are wearing yukata and they’re headed to the same direction. A yukata is the summer equivalent of kimono but lighter and more airy. Japanese people, esp. women, love to wear them during hanabi topped with French-sounding hairstyles. They look so fashionable you’d think they’ll have a sideshow with the fireworks. I suggest wearing a yukata to make your hanabi authentically Japanese. Make sure to do your hair too!

Go to the festival venue early and reserve a place

Fireworks festivals usually start at 7 pm or as soon as the summer sun sets. But, the Japanese would insist that you have to be there early. There might be no place to sit. There could be a heavy traffic and you might miss the festival. There might be no parking space. Etc. etc. etc. I’ve never seen a more patient people than the Japanese.  Expect a crowd in a festival venue as early as 1 pm you’d think Apple is launching a new iPhone.

Bring food and don’t forget some alcohol

A festival is never complete without food in Japan. Food makes everything feel festive. If you don’t have food, you just don’t get it. Food makes hanabi a social event. Japanese use fireworks festivals to be with friends and family. Imagine a social event without food. It doesn’t feel very social at all. The alcohol is optional but it’s so common I think festival goers have a silent agreement to get drunk on hanabi.

Say, “Sugoi!” or  “Kirei” whenever fireworks explode

Sugoi (su-goy) means great while kirei (ki-rey) means beautiful. The Japanese usually use these two words in the same way that we use “Wow!” or “Amazing!” The difference is the Japanese are easy to please as a people. What may be sugoi to them may not be great to foreigners. So even if they’ve probably seen the same fireworks explosion for several years, you can still hear the audience saying “Sugoi’ and “Kirei” with breathless enthusiasm.  

Wait until the last fireworks exploded before going home

The actual fireworks display lasts for about 2 hours. I mean it. Hanabi is non-stop firework explosion for 2 hours.  A friend invented the term ‘firework fatigue,” because you’ll eventually get tired of the fireworks even if they’re beautiful.  After a few minutes, you’ll just want for the fireworks to end so you can go home. But then again, the Japanese are very patient people. They’ll stay until the very end. 


Now, I wish I could say I did all those things when I went to a fireworks festival in Kanzanji. I didn’t though.

First, I don’t have a yukata  and I don’t have the money to have my hair done.

Second, I have things to do before the festival. I can’t spare time waiting and waiting.

Third, I’m trying to save money so I ate dinner before going to the venue. And I don’t drink. I brought some popcorn and a bottle of water, though.

Fourth, hmmm… okay I think I said that a couple of times just because I got used to saying them.

Lastly, my friend and I went home after 30 minutes of firework explosion. We don’t want to be caught in traffic just like what happened to us last year in Bentenjima. Last year, we feel very “Japanes-y” so we waited for the fireworks to finish. This was a bad choice. We were trapped in the midst of a big crowd wanting to go home too. What could have been a 30-minute travel time ended up in 2 hours. We’re glad that we went home earlier than the rest of the crowd this year. Saved us lots of time!

Even if I didn’t go to the festival the Japanese way, I still enjoyed it. I’m with good company who didn’t complain about the long ride, the crowd or the popcorn. I was able to do my laundry and clean my apartment before the festival. I didn’t have to push my way through the crowd when I went home. I didn’t have fireworks fatigue. I’m happy to have gone to the festival my way.

Fireworks are beautiful in however way you want to see them. You can go all out and have the full Japanese experience of hanabi or you can just go your way. It really doesn’t matter as long as you’re enjoying yourself.

What's the last fireworks festival you've seen? 

Check out Famous Fireworks in Japan here 

just for laughs!!!